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Evidence for Auditory-Visual Processing Specific to Biological Motion

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image of Seeing and Perceiving
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Spatial Vision.

Biological motion is usually associated with highly correlated sensory signals from more than one modality: an approaching human walker will not only have a visual representation, namely an increase in the retinal size of the walker’s image, but also a synchronous auditory signal since the walker’s footsteps will grow louder. We investigated whether the multisensorial processing of biological motion is subject to different constraints than ecologically invalid motion.Observers were presented with a visual point-light walker and/or synchronised auditory footsteps; the walker was either approaching the observer (looming motion) or walking away (receding motion). A scrambled point-light walker served as a control. Observers were asked to detect the walker’s motion as quickly and as accurately as possible. In Experiment 1 we tested whether the reaction time advantage due to redundant information in the auditory and visual modality is specific for biological motion. We found no evidence for such an effect: the reaction time reduction was accounted for by statistical facilitation for both biological and scrambled motion. In Experiment 2, we dissociated the auditory and visual information and tested whether inconsistent motion directions across the auditory and visual modality yield longer reaction times in comparison to consistent motion directions. Here we find an effect specific to biological motion: motion incongruency leads to longer reaction times only when the visual walker is intact and recognisable as a human figure. If the figure of the walker is abolished by scrambling, motion incongruency has no effect on the speed of the observers’ judgments. In conjunction with Experiment 1 this suggests that conflicting auditory-visual motion information of an intact human walker leads to interference and thereby delaying the response.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Liverpool, Bedford Street South, Liverpool L697ZA, UK


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